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This hasn’t come up previously, but I have a…strained relationship with the Planet of the Apes. It’s one of those sci-fi properties that I didn’t really care for when I was younger, but that’s more to do with my own ignorance than the actual quality of the film series. Since then I’ve gained a new appreciation for the series throughout its many incarnations while still holding a grudge over certain issues. Predominately, I’ve always had a problem with the franchise’s tendency to favor “because of shut-up” as the grease that keeps the story wheels going.
I’m not saying I can’t roll with talking apes or solar time travel, more that the apes are just able to beat the humans because shut-up they can. That was a big part of my problem with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to the point I straight up turned on the monkeys by the end of the film. As such, I’m holding their new entry at a bit of an arm’s length but this opening trailer definitely has me back on board.
Right up front let me say that having a character actually say “planet of apes” in the trailer was more than enough to win me over. I freely admit I’m easily pleased that way, but at the same time, that’s also a bit of a callback. See, the new franchise might be a reboot, but the original 5 film series also touched on the same stuff the new films are getting into now.
In the 4th original Apes film, entitled Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, we got to see the same origin of the Apes, making it the film that was directly remade with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. What’s more, Conquest was also the first film in the series to actually feature a character name dropping the title when the movie’s villain declares that, if humanity should fall, all that will remain will be a planet of apes.
That seems to be the same situation we’re in here, with the vicious “Colonel,” played by Woody Harrelson, rallying his human troops in their war against ape kind. This is kind of picking up from the end of the last film, where Caesar and his forces were drawn into a conflict with the human settlement in San Francisco after the traitor Koba attempted to assassinate him.
I say “kind of” because that film’s ending actually underwent a lot of editing and a few changes. In the movie, Caesar defeats Koba and reclaims leadership of the apes, but we’re informed that Gary Oldman, the human leader, sent a message to nearby military forces asking for help. In the original ending, a full on military convoy showed up, creating a harsher, more open ending. War of the Planet of the Apes seems to be picking up those plot threads.
It’s kind of impressive how much this new Apes cycle has leaned into a darkening tone, so as to better reflect the slow collapse of the real society that informs the films. Rise of the Apes came out in 2011, the exact middle of the Obama years, then Dawn of the Apes hit in 2014 when we were hit with Ebola and Ferguson, and now War of the Apes kicks off the national nightmare of our new presidency- art reflecting life I suppose. In any event, I actually think the darker tone works really well for War of the Planet Apes or at least better than it did for Dawn. Incidentally, expect to be hearing me come down on Dawn of the Apes quite a bit in this article.
The thing is, for Planet of the Apes to actually pay off its remarkable iconography like Gorilla vs. Helicopter or mounted monkey cavalry we have to be able to root for the apes. In a situation like Dawn, where the apes are being tricked into war and are, effectively, the bad guys it’s hard to get really excited for their side no matter how many rad cavalry charges they pull off.
Here, Caesar and friends look to be on the back foot, forced to the edge by an early loss to the villainous Colonel. They’re the underdogs seeking justice, there’s a real reason to root for them and support their side even if we know they’re headed towards human slavery and vivisection.
As for the Colonel, he looks like exactly the kind of villain this series has always lacked for. Dr. Zaius from the original trilogy is still probably the best bad guy the Apes franchise ever produced if only because he’s involved and exciting in the way his fear of man’s power is justified but he’s not terribly intimidating. The Colonel looks to be more in line with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes bad guy- the Governor Breck.
Breck was more of an authoritarian civil ruling through prejudice as that movie framed the Apes as literally the lower working class and representative of an ethnic minority, but he worked as a bad guy. The Colonel looks to be more about military might and, in particular, revenge.
This is judging mainly on that picture of his son we caught a glimpse of in his mountain fortress. Presumably he, like Gary Oldman, lost his family to the ape flu that was unleashed in Rise of the Apes and holds a personal grudge against the monkeys now.
Overall this trailer isn’t that heavy on plot, but there are a lot of intriguing hints around the margins. The big final battle we’re getting glimpses of, with the humans charging the ape stronghold, is most reminiscent of Battle for the Planet of the Apes, both in visual and in the sides being chosen.
The eagle-eyed fan will spot that there are actually some humans working with the apes here, which raises a lot of questions about who’s in Caesar’s band and what the Colonel’s relationship to the surviving pockets of humanity actually is.
We also see that Maurice the Orangutan is still with the series, which is a nice addition. Old school apes fans are probably still wondering if Maurice will ever learn to speak or if he’s just a steppingstone on the way to the Lawgiver, the orangutan who forged ape law in the original films.
Speaking of, that shot of the Colonel shaving his head undoubtedly made all the Ape classic fans gasp as it might be an actual hint towards one of the franchise’s weirder elements- the underground cult of doomsday bomb worshipping psychic humans.
Seriously, if this movie ends with the Colonel’s men starting a new life under the Rocky Mountains I could totally believe that’s where we’re headed, especially given the presence of the Alpha-Omega Bomb logo on their American flag. Actually, given the opening shot of the apes riding along the beach, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended with a reworking of the famous Statue of Liberty shot from the end of the first film.
So yes, after being thoroughly put-off by Dawn of the Apes you can count me back on board the hype train for this series. Even at my most disappointed, however, there’s always been a part of me that’s excited for Planet of the Apes if only because it’s such a strange franchise to become a hit in later life.
One of the reasons I’m more okay with remakes and reboots if you really don’t know what’s going to come around to be meaningful again and the fact Planet of the Apes has become an emblematic success story of the 2010s is a great example of that. It’s the kind of series that could conceivably keep going indefinitely, even if its main heroes like Caesar and Maurice don’t make it. I mean, lest we forget, they did set-up astronauts leaving the planet before the monkey plague back in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so it’s not like there isn’t a logical end point for this cycle to head towards.
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